There are a series of possessive phrases which knit together the second person possessive pronoun 'your' to particularise it and make it the speaker's son:: 'your lapel', 'your blazer', 'your shirt's', 'your nose', 'your hair', your bedroom', 'your playground voice'. These references also make 'you' into an everyman figure--in some ways this could be anyone's son, something that the poet refers to when she speaks of the warm reception this poem has had from the mothers of fallen soldiers. They are also opposed and matched by a similar number of references to the first person possessive pronoun: 'my hand', 'my nose', 'my fingers', 'my words', 'my stomach', which similarly both particularises the speaker and makes her into a symbol of mothers everywhere.
This seems to be part of the central division in the poem, between home and warfare. the idea presented thoughout--that the man who goes to war was once a child, and that the memories of him as a child are still powerful to his mother--is put across by an opposition between the domestic and the warlike, so that opposed to this intensely homely semantic field is one of battle, injury and conflict: 'Armistice Sunday', war graves', 'spasms', 'blockade', 'bandaged', 'rounded up', 'steeled', graze', 'brave', 'reinforcements'. Often, the writer juxtaposes words from both fields, or describes something domestic with words that we might normally associate with conflict. Thus, 'reinforcements' become only a scarf or gloves to protect against cold weather, and the 'blockade' is simply the edging of a coat.
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker describes saying farewell to her son three days before 'Armistice Sunday'. She places a poppy on his lapel before he leaves, implicitly to go to war, though this may simply be an extended metaphor as he is wearing a blazer, more normally associated with school uniform than army uniform. This initial confusing image is part of a confusion sustained throughout the poem--is the speaker mourning the death of her child, or simply her fears for him? Has he gone to war, or is he simply leaving home for the first time? There is little explicit indication of which reading is correct--the focus is on the mother's sadness at parting, and her hopes and fears for her child.
Behind this poem lie many others with a similar theme, most particularly the poem 'In Flanders fields' by John McCrae, which is credited with first associating the idea of poppies with the fallen, and ultimately for starting the Royal British Legion Campaign, through the work of Moina Belle Michael.. The poem is precisely placed 'Three days befroe Armistice Sunday'. Armistice Sunday is actually something of a misnomer, conflating 'rememberance sunday' and 'artmstice day'. The Armistice was the formal ending of World War 1, on the 'eleventth day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour', and in 1919 the date of November 11th was declared an official day of commemmoration as a result. As time went on, this was replacd, for practical purposes, with the use of the Sunday nearest to November 11th, which became known as 'Rememberance Sunday'.
The omission of the word 'rememberance' and its replacement with the more formal term calls up the omitted word to the reader's mind, in a form of litotes, the rhetorical figure where you describe something through its opposite or its omission (as in 'he's not all bad'). This also makes the placing of the poem in time more uncertain; three days before armistice day would be the 8th November; three days before Rememberance Sunday could be within several days of this.
|Blackthorns are a lot smaller than these|
The image in the third section of the poem--the world as a 'treasure chest', 'overflowing' suggests the possibilities that theworld offers to the child--the reasons why he wants to leave home. The world appears rich and full to him, and he is 'intoxicated', or drunk, att he thought of the possibilities. The use of the word 'intoxicated' may also suggest that the speaker feels that he is not quite responsible for his own actions--his desire to leave and his excitement is so strong that he may not have considered all the reprecussions of what he is doing, perhaps.
When the son leaves, the mother describes how she 'released a song bird from its cage'. Although this is described as a simple truth, a literal reality: 'I went into your bedroom', the image seems strongly symbolic. LIke the 'dove' that flies to the churchyard, the caged bird seems to represent her son and his desire for freedom.
Whatever grade you are working towards, the basic structure of any answer will be the same:
The introduction will explain the relevance of the question to what feelings the poem expresses and an overview of the story the poem tells.
Paragraph that covers form.
Paragraph that covers structure.
Paragraph that covers language (sound and verbal imagery).
Conclusion: You then conclude on the meaning that emerges from this.
For each point, you need to provide evidence (a quote or reference) and an explanation.
- How does the poet express feelings about death in Poppies?
Points you could make:
The poem expresses the feelings a mother has about the death of her son in a war far away.
The form of the poem appears to be strong and regular. This shows that the narrator is trying to hold in the emotions that have been stirred up by the sight of poppies.
The structure of the poem however shows that there is a lot of emotion beneath the surface: the length of the stanzas and the lines begins to change more strongly.
Time goes backwards and forwards between when he was a child, when he left for war and when she is actually telling the story
The poem also creates several layers of language:
- It uses literal images (e.g. poppies, blazer) to express strong detailed memories that have not faded with time.
- It then uses similes [simile: An explicit comparison of one thing to another, using the words 'like' or 'as'. 'Sleeping like a log' and 'bright as a button' are similes. ] and metaphors to express deep emotions, such as , and ,
- Finally it uses symbols, particularly the dove and the poppies to show how general meanings shared by us all can also contain deeply personal feelings as well.
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